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Blues hold off Coyotes 3-2

by Jerry Brown /
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- On a night when Keith Tkachuk joined the Phoenix Coyotes' Ring of Honor, the perfect ending was spoiled by the same culprit that often foiled "Captain Coyote" in days gone by – a hot goaltender.

St. Louis goalie Brian Elliott improved to 14-3-0 by making 24 saves and the Blues spoiled their former teammate's special night in the desert with a 3-1 win on Friday.

Matt D'Agostini snapped a 1-1 deadlock with 1:35 left in the second period and Jason Arnott gave the Blues a two-goal lead 1:48 into the third period. Alexander Steen also scored for St. Louis, now 14-3-4 since Ken Hitchcock took over behind the bench on Nov. 6. It was Arnott's 21st career goal against the Coyotes and his 56th point in 57 career games against Phoenix.

Evgeny Grachev assisted on the goals by D'Agostini and Arnott, and the trio benefitted from some line switching by Hitchcock in the second period.

"When we put Grachev with those guys I thought that line really played well for us. They gave us a big boost," Hitchcock said. "It was a hard, physical game. Both teams gutted it out, especially in the second and third period, they went at each other."

Shane Doan and Keith Yandle scored for the Coyotes, who are 11-6-1 on the road and were coming off back-to-back wins in Florida and Carolina but dropped to 7-8-2 at home and have lost four of their last five at Arena.

"We've been banging our head against the wall trying to figure out why," Phoenix coach Dave Tippett said. "If you had told me that by Christmas we'd be a game under .500 (at home), I would be very surprised. That's something that's going to have to change. It's unacceptable to have the home record we do."

The Coyotes have been holding their game-day skates in Scottsdale this season, 30 minutes away from the arena and conveniently close to where the players live. But that might change.

"Whether we have to change our practice schedule or the way we do things at home … we're going to change something up to get it fixed," Tippett said.

Already without goalie Mike Smith and defenseman Adrian Aucoin, the Coyotes lost not only the game but their top center. Martin Hanzal was helped off the ice early in the third period when he was hit in the face by a David Backes high stick and immediately dropped to the ice. No penalty was called on the play, but Hanzal stayed down for several minutes and, once upright, had trouble making the step off the ice before heading slowly down the tunnel.

Both teams had trouble getting started after a 30-minute ceremony to honor Tkachuk, who played all but 18 games of his 19-year career with the two teams. But one player who was ready was Elliott, who entered the game leading the NHL goals-against average (1.52) and save percentage  (.944) and showed why with pretty glove saves early on Kyle Chipchura and Ray Whitney.

Elliott also caught a break when Daymond Langkow was set up by Doan 2-on-1 but hit the right post with an open net to shoot at.

"They got a couple chances early and you want to make those first two saves to kind of get your head in the game," Elliott said. "Luckily for me, they were kind of bang-bang plays and it gets you into it pretty early. But we did a good job as a team of settling down and taking it to them."

Steen, whose father Tomas is also in the Ring of Honor in Glendale and was a Tkachuk teammate during his distinguished career as a Winnipeg Jet (1981-95), broke a scoreless tie 7:12 into the second period. Alex Pietrangelo gobbled up a Phoenix turnover at the St. Louis blue line and caught Steen in stride as he split the Phoenix defense. Rostislav Klesla tried to hook Steen from behind, but he fought it off and beat Phoenix goalie Jason LaBarbera for his team-best 12th goal. Steen also leads the Blues at a plus-22 through 34 games.

But the Coyotes needed only 44 seconds to answer and a future Coyotes Ring of Honor member did the honors. Elliott stopped Michal Rozsival's shot between the circles, but the rebound bounced right to Doan, who beat Elliott to the near post for his ninth goal of the season and 305th of his career -- 18 shy of Tkachuk for second on the all-time franchise list.

The Coyotes had two quick power plays to try to cash in on the momentum, but Elliott stopped Whitney twice and Oliver Ekman-Larsson once before the Blues regained the lead. Grachev rode Taylor Pyatt off the puck and fed D'Agostini down the left side for a shot that LaBarbera tried to glove but lost. D'Agostini's seventh of the season snapped a personal nine-game drought.

"You never want to give up a goal like that," said LaBarbera, now 3-4-0 this season as the backup to Smith. "Obviously, I'd like to have that one back but I guess it's just the way it goes sometimes."

Arnott made it 3-1 by cleaning up a Kris Russell rebound early in the third. Yandle cut the lead in half with 6:21 left one-timing a Raffi Torres feed past Elliott, but the Coyotes never seriously threatened to get the equalizer.
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